Mental health drives our experiences, choices, and daily lives. In turn, these things interact with and affect our mental health. This cyclical interrelationship helps humans to survive and thrive; however, too often it can cause humans to lose control.
Mental health, according to Dr. Tim Sharp, is: “a state of psychological wellbeing; an absence of or minimal levels of distress, and the presence of positive emotions like happiness and satisfaction with life.” Therefore, your mental health plays an important role in helping you overcome hardship. In some situations, poor mental health is the hurdle you must overcome to flourish and have a sense of wellbeing.
Taking care of your mental health is an important part of caring for yourself. Just as we are careful about what we eat if we desire physical health, mental health deserves at least as much focus and energy, if not more.
The importance of mental health
What is mental health, and what does it encompass? According to the CDC:
“Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we manage stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.”
In other words, your mental health affects your overall sense of well-being and plays a key role in determining how you will respond to normal life stresses, function in everyday life, and develop your abilities and strengths.
Mental health is important because it affects everything that we do and how we live. Not only does it affect our ability to adapt, cope, and solve any problems that come our way, but it also affects our ability to be happy, productive, and well-adjusted people.
Because our mental health is so foundational, it must be taken seriously. If there are any issues or concerns about your own or a loved one’s mental health, it’s important to address these sooner rather than later because waiting may allow the situation to deteriorate.
Mental health issues are not a respecter of persons – anyone can be affected. Thankfully, the stigma around mental health issues has diminished in recent years, with celebrities and other influential people disclosing and thus normalizing their mental health struggles, but there’s still a lot that needs to be done before the shame attached to mental health problems is eliminated.
The impact of mental health
As was stated above, mental health encompasses our whole being and affects every facet of our live. A person can experience poor mental health and strong mental health at different times in life. The interrelationship of social, emotional, psychological, and physical factors and their impact on mental health are directly related to a person’s level of resilience, strength in responding to stress, and level of support.
Poor mental health can affect how a person copes with life and its setbacks. Without treatment, poor mental health can lead to feelings of hopelessness and sadness, a low sense of worth, anxiety, worry, and fear. Our hobbies and relationships may suffer and our enjoyment of them diminishes.
Poor mental health can lead to making unhealthy choices, and so our relationship with food, for example, may change as we use it to soothe our feelings, and that can lead to eating disorders. When your mental health is suffering, your ability to perform well in settings such as school or work may also suffer, as will your ability to complete your tasks and manage your time well. This is because it may become difficult to focus on tasks and do them well.
Not only can life lose its pleasures, but it may become overwhelming, and some may turn to self-harm to cope with or release stress. This and other destructive patterns such as alcohol and drug use may cause a further decline in a person’s overall health.
On the other hand, good mental health allows a person to:
- work productively
- realize their full potential
- cope with the various stresses of life
- make meaningful contributions to their family and community
Different kinds of mental health problems
If a person experiences mental health problems, their thinking, mood, and behavior could be negatively affected. There are many kinds of mental health problems of varying severity and impact.
Some mental health problems can be diagnosed as mental illnesses, such as dementia, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and anxiety disorders, while others such as stress are mental health problems that wouldn’t qualify as mental illnesses. Many factors can contribute to mental health problems, including:
- Family history of mental health problems
- Biological factors, such as genes or changes in brain chemistry
- Negative life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
- Aging, such as with dementia
Our mental health affects every aspect of our lives, and so poor mental health can manifest in a variety of ways. Some of the early warning signs of mental health problems include:
- Becoming isolated and withdrawing from people and activities that you used to enjoy
- Drastic changes in eating and sleeping habits, such as eating or sleeping too much or too little
- Feeling low or no energy
- Feeling detached, numb, or like nothing matters
- Having unexplained aches and pains
- Being unable to perform daily tasks like taking care of your children or getting to work or school
- Feeling a sense of worthlessness, or feeling helpless or hopeless
- Substance abuse, such as smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
- Hearing voices or hallucinating
- Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, worried, or scared
- Struggling to concentrate
- Feeling angry or irritable, acting on your anger by yelling or throwing things
- Severe mood swings that cause problems in relationships
- Persistent and intrusive thoughts and memories
- Thinking of harming yourself or others
- Neglecting your hygiene and overall health
When facing mental health problems that are prolonged and significantly affecting your life you must seek professional help and a proper diagnosis that eliminates other potential underlying causes of your symptoms.
There are many different types of mental health problems and getting help from a mental health professional will place you on the path to recovery sooner and with the appropriate tools to improve your mental health. Strengthening your mental health is possible.
What help is available?
If you or a loved one are struggling with mental health problems, it’s important to address them head-on. Mental health problems won’t improve on their own without some form of intervention. We can begin to feel better today simply by acknowledging that our struggles are real and worth paying sympathetic attention to. You don’t have to solve the issue by yourself – you can ask for help if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
One of the ways you can help to strengthen your mental health is to practice self-care. By taking simple steps such as improving your sleep and eating habits, relying on your social support systems, maintaining healthy relationships, getting some exercise, and, most importantly, focusing your thoughts on God, you can reduce the impact of poor mental health and help to improve your overall health.
In addition to self-care, developing healthy coping skills can go a long way to help you overcome mental health challenges. Many people turn to drugs and alcohol as coping mechanisms, and these mechanisms typically undermine their health, causing even more problems and creating a cycle of destructive behaviors. Instead of having only one issue to deal with, the problems multiply and become more complex and difficult to resolve.
More and more people are making use of counseling, whether group or individual. Walking with a professional therapist can help you identify the issues that you’re dealing with, as well as provide you with the tools you need to cope. Your therapist will develop a treatment plan tailored to your needs. Depending on what the issue is, in addition to therapy you may need to take medication such as a prescription anti-depressant.
Your mental health is important, and it deserves attention as it has a significant impact on your sense of wellbeing. Anyone can struggle with their mental health – it doesn’t mean you’re less of a person for experiencing these challenges, but you should take the necessary steps to reclaim your health and lead the life of freedom and joy God intends for people.
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“Mental Health Matters”, Courtesy of Marcel Strauss, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hiding”, Courtesy of Fernando Dearferdo, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Overwhelmed”, Courtesy of Nik Shuliahin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Hope”, Courtesy of Ronak Valobobhai, Unsplash.com, CC0 License